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Perspectives — April 2-4, 2019
April 10, 2019
OPINION

Last week in the Senate: Promoting citizen engagement, standing up for families affected by autism and the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.


Government

Canadians are not shy about telling senators what they think.

As we scrutinize legislation, suggest improvements to bills and launch debates about issues of national importance, we appreciate the input from Canadians who take the time to write and share their views.

Two recent bills, Bill C-69 and Bill C-262, have been the subject of a lot — and I mean a lot — of important feedback from Canadians. C-69 concerns environmental assessments and C-262 is about harmonizing Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I read these messages and appreciate the effort people make to reach out to the Senate about issues that matter to them.

Outreach efforts are an important component of the work of the Senate. Canadian democracy is strengthened when citizens are given opportunities to learn more about how their Parliament works and how they can contribute. Writing to a senator could not be easier: a letter to a senator requires no postage and email is always an efficient option.

More recently, Canadians can watch the work of the Senate through both online web casts and television broadcasts.

The Senate of Canada has also launched a youth initiative, SENgage, to help young Canadians learn more about the Senate. Last year, the SENgage program connected senators with more than 6,000 students across the country.

Active citizen engagement and outreach is just one way that the Senate of Canada is more accountable, transparent and relevant to the lives of Canadians.


Opposition

The Senate Committee on Transport and Communications reversed its earlier decision and will now travel to both Saskatchewan and Alberta to discuss the impact that Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, will have on the lives of Canadians outside of British Columbia.

The repercussions of this government bill will reach far beyond B.C.’s borders, so it is good that senators will hear directly from people whose livelihood will be harmed if C-48 is passed without amendments.

Next, we had the Speaker rule Senator Harder’s amendment out of order, on our motion to have the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee investigate whether the prime minister put inappropriate pressure on the former attorney general in the matter of SNC-Lavalin. The stall tactic put forward by the government in this matter was seen for what it is and I look forward to further debate on this issue.

Finally, I am encouraged that Senator Harder withdrew his motion that would have forced time allocation on all 11 government bills currently in the Red Chamber. It is important that senators are able to carry out their constitutional responsibilities.

Looking ahead, we welcome Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who will speak to Bill C-48 at the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. Conservative senators are very interested to hear from a broad range of voices in Western Canada, where livelihoods are being put at risk by this extreme bill.


Senate Liberals

Last week, I was privileged to stand in the Senate to recognize World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.

Twelve years ago, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released the report Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis. And yet, more than a decade later, access and services for autism are still uneven across this country.

This is not who we are as a nation. Why are we struggling to define policies and provide services in an equitable way to all Canadians with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Why can’t we guarantee for most people with ASD a future lived to their true potential? I offer that it’s because our leaders don’t know how to listen, because our leaders don’t look at what others are doing, because our leaders don’t know what robust consultation looks like and because our leaders are uncomfortable working together in a nonpartisan way.

This is an unacceptable approach by our policy-makers. Provinces and territories need clear direction.

They need a blueprint, and they need a collaborative and leadership approach with the federal government. We have to sit down together and think outside the box to create a National Autism Strategy. I will never lose my voice for the families dealing with autism, but I’m tired of standing up each and every day talking about the very real challenges faced by families.

It’s my sincere hope that stakeholders can come together and join the conversation because the time is now.